Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Spirit of Life

I've been busy this week working on a commission for a mizrah. This is a symbolic artwork that hangs on the east wall of a Jewish home, and it denotes the direction in which to pray (towards Jerusalem). Since I am pretty much a heathen, I approach this kind of work very carefully - I want to be respectful and correct in my interpretation of the meaning of the piece, yet it also has to be true to myself. I do a lot of research and check things out with the client as I go.
For this piece, I originally thought I might do it in fabric. However, my research showed that although mizrahs can be made in any medium, very often they have been done in a Jewish craft tradition of cut paper. This instantly appealed to me, since the steps of folding and cutting are very similar to a textile applique. The symmetry that results is, of course, my thing (see Robes of Power on my website). And all those years of graphic design have made me pretty handy with an X-Acto knife. This week, after several months of designing and letting it sit, I was ready to cut.

Unfortunately, I won't be moving into my studio until December 1, so I have to work on the dining room table. I don't have the tidiest work habits - note teacup in dangerous proximity to the paper. I am using katagami washi - a Japanese paper made for paste resist stencils. It is handmade from mulberry fibre, soaked in persimmon juice to make it tough, and then smoked to cure it. It is the most incredibly rich brown colour and smells fantastic.
I chose the tree of life as my central motif. I have used this image in my work before - it both ancient and a common symbol in many cosmologies. Since I am into Matisse these days, I drew a seven branched tree in his oak leaf style. The seven branches relate it to the menorah, which is sometimes depicted as a tree of life. More importantly, it symbolizes light (both literally and spiritually), and since East is where the sun rises, and the direction of Jerusalem, this seemed very fitting. The Hebrew text at the top states "From this direction, the spirit of life."

Animals are frequently part of a traditional mizrah. They are also symbolic. In spiritual life, Jewish people are told to "Be as bold as the leopard and as swift as the eagle, fleet as the deer and courageous as the lion to do the will of thy Father in Heaven." The arabesques that link the creatures come from Matisse as well, but are also reminiscent of Japanese and Arabic decorative patterns. To me, the swirls and spirals are energy, light, air and movement, both inward and outward.
I backed the cut paper with a gold paper, similar to how I saw antique katagami displayed in a Tokyo museum devoted to the art.
I ordered the frame yesterday - a simple distressed gold finish. The wall the piece is to hang on is painted deep burgundy. I hope the mizrah will embody the elements of harmony, wholeness and radiance - of beauty, and of deep meaning.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


I once had a yoga teacher who used to say that this is the time of year when the veils between the worlds grow thin. (She would also talk about the expansive spaciousness of shavasana, but I digress.) I do know it's the season for exploring alternate identities. And, Saturday night was the Work Less Party's Masquerade Ball - the perfect chance for some shape-shifting.
Ian took the classic route. Check out the frock coat - custom made by moi, with glittery Day of the Dead fabric.

Since I had been working on my business plan until the 11th hour, I made a last minute choice from my large collection of kimonos, added a fancy mask and voila, instant outfit. (Oddly enough, it wasn't the outfit that made me feel different, it was the lipstick, which I hardly ever wear.)

And here are a couple of samples of what I actually achieved in the Maiwa workshop I raved about in the previous post.

On this one, I did an applique, learned how hard mirrors are to sew on, added some beads and sequins and little bells, all on some fabulous Maiwa fabrics. (Even their scraps are exquisite!)

And this was a little patchwork featuring my grotesquely large quilting stitches and some tassels that I had great fun making.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Warning! Rated "R" Explicit Images of Cloth

I was one of the truly fortunate people in the universe the past two days. No, I didn't win the lottery or have a romantic weekend with George Clooney (those would be such banal pleasures). I took the Ralli Quilt Embellishment class at Maiwa! Pure orgasmic bliss for the threadhead! Here's a sample of the visual delights I revelled in.

Patricia Stoddard (left) was a gracious, generous teacher. She created an atmosphere that encouraged and inspired creativity.

The studio, in the Maiwa Loft, was mind-bogglingly lovely. Everywhere one looked there were treasures.

This bed was in one of the offices! Later, I saw one of the Maiwa emplyees sitting on it doing paperwork. Can you imagine working in such an environment?

Even the bathroom was filled with beautiful little touches. I definitely would love to have a handmade brass bowl filled with $80 brushes on the back of MY toilet.

I've probably used too many suggestive words in this posting and this blog will appear in the search engines of lecherous old toads around the world. If so, listen up guys -- what really turns this woman on is two days at Maiwa Handprints! And, judging from the "oohs" and "aahs" of my classmates everytime another exquisite piece of embroidery was brought out, I'm not the only one.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Socks and Dogs

I finished the Koigu socks last week. Very nice yarn to knit with. I had two skeins of slightly different colourways, but they were close enough and so multicoloured I wasn't too worried about the difference.
Of course my dogs love to get into the frame when the camera is out. Here's Casey being her usual detached but cautiously hopeful self.

And Tasha, increasingly neurotic and jealous of any attention Casey gets.

Very simple socks - I knit them during business lectures. Since encouraging people to be creative is part of my business plan, I figure I can totally justify knitting at all times.
And after finishing them I went back to poor, neglected Arisaig (from Knitty) and realised I only have to finish off a sleeve and then I'll be done. My gauge issues seem to have sorted themselves out while languishing in the knitting bag - I love it when that happens!

Monday, October 02, 2006


Vancouver Swap-o-rama-rama 2006 is in the can! It was a roaring, chaotic success, with over 350 people through the door and a small ski hill sized pile of clothes recycled. My camera and I were having issues, and the room was on the dark side, so these photos could use a lot of tweaking but here's a taste of the day: (Click on the photos to enlarge.)

The fashion show was an exercise in improvisation, but the models (Erin, Jaleen, Jenny, Lizzy, Liza, Naomi and Gretchen) were beautiful and brilliant. The clothes of designers Gretchen Elsner, Wendy van Reisen, Shawna Reibling, and Tagalong Sally were fabulous, so ingenious and witty.

People were awesomely creative. Thanks to Wendy, Shawna, Alexis, Jennifer, Katie, and Charlotte for so generously sharing their skills. And the volunteers who helped sort (led by the amazing April), set up and clean up were wonderful to the point of heroism.

Swapping was frenzied (and that's putting it delicately.) Our DJ's were masterful in keeping the energy flowing.

Conrad showed his inimitable style and was a fantastic, witty MC. His energy never flagged, especially impressive since he had been up til the wee hours the night before hosting a packed Velo Fusion party at the Anza Club.

And, most of all, huge thanks to Wendy Tremayne, the originator of Swap-o-rama-rama, for her brilliant idea, and for all her generous help and support in planning the Vancouver swap. She's knee deep in prep for the New York swap, happening October 8. Blessings to you Wendy!!

Will we do another one?? Well let's just say I'm looking at the Heritage Hall in April.